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FM Antenna Inside

NAB engineers note cell phones with integrated FM antennas

The NAB, in its fine Radio TechCheck newsletter, this week noted that advances in cell phone design may turn out to be an “important breakthrough” in efforts to get FM reception into more phones.

Its engineers reported on two new cell phone products that include integrated FM antennas, the Motorola ROKR EM35 and the Nokia 5030, the latter being marketed first in Europe.

Listeners can use wireless bluetooth headsets or bluetooth-enabled speakers for listening to the radio. “Until now, virtually all cell phone-based FM radios required listeners to use a wired headset or wired speaker whereby this wire would serve as the antenna for the FM radio,” the newsletter states, and it reported on the advances in IC technology that have helped to make such phones possible.

“For example, Silicon Labs, an innovator in the design and manufacture of ‘mixed signal’ ICs (those that process both analog and digital signals on a single silicon ‘chip’), has introduced a family of FM receiver ICs that support integrated antennas, digital audio out, worldwide FM band support and Radio Data System (RDS) technology, all on a single chip measuring 3 millimeters on a side. Silicon Labs’ ICs use a patented tuned-resonance technology which allows integrated FM antennas constructed of printed circuit board (PCB) traces, loops, stubs or other devices to perform as well or better than the headset-cord wired antennas they replace.”

The NAB technical newsletter noted other portable devices that are incorporating integrated FM antennas, like the Alert FM receiver and “smart” watches used with Microsoft’s MSN Direct FM subcarrier-based service.

Not only do these developments make devices easier to use, but an integrated FM antenna cell phone is better suited to deliver emergency alert messages, NAB notes, “since the FM radio can now function without a headset being plugged in.” It reported that cellular carriers are developing ways to provide alerts to customers through broadcast SMS text messaging (though that’s not in the immediate offing because of the work and cost involved).

“NAB believes that FM radios in cell phones will provide a vehicle for cost effective, near-term, easy and convenient access to alert messages being sent over the Emergency Alert System,” it added.

NAB is right about this and I’m glad to see more coordinated efforts over the past year or so by the NAB FASTROAD folks and others to push harder on getting FM into more devices. If we want radio to be part of consumers’ lives, we need to get radio where the consumers are.

Where that all will leave AM, of course, is another story.